Maybe it’s time to let someone (or something) else take over the planning. (Photo: Thinkstock)
I am one of those freaks of nature who actually loves travel planning. In fact I savor the planning portion of a trip almost as much as the trip itself. I spend hours diving down Internet rabbit holes, reading reviews, searching out little known destinations and adventures, boutique hotels and tours of things that are odd.
I still buy guide books and dog ear them, underline them and keep them on a special shelf in my house in case I ever visit a destination. Some people read thrillers before they go to bed. I read Lonely Planet.
That’s why I was skeptical at first about a new itinerary planner called Utrip – available as a free mobile app and at Utrip.com— that attempts to wed artificial intelligence with human expertise to help plan a trip for you. You tell Utrip your interests, budget, and group size. By sliding the levers on the Utrip dashboard, you can adjust your intake of history, art, shopping, and noshing—and set your own pace.
Was I ready to let a machine take over? (Photo: Utrip)
Utrip’s algorithm then sorts through millions of possibilities and in minutes, Utrip spits out a tailored day-by-day itinerary, complete with maps.
You can even book a hotel room through one of Utrip’s hotel partners. Once you’ve selected your hotel, your daily itinerary is optimized for your hotel’s location. If you have your own hotel (or Airbnb etc) you can add it into the itinerary and Utrip will adjust the settings. You can also share your plans via Facebook, Twitter or email so that groups can make plans together.
Why was Utrip taking away my trip planning thunder? And could it do as good a job as I could? I gave it a shot at planning a vacation to Paris with my husband. Could Utrip rival moi when it came to planning our Parisian itinerary?
I began by “telling” it (sliding levers) how long we would be there. 8 days. Then I selected how much I liked to do certain things. I like to eat a lot. I’m pretty adventurous. I think art is ok, but I’ve been a little museumed out on recent trips.
My husband is a history buff and he LOVES nature.
We’re getting close to the holidays so I want to do some shopping and we are on a medium-sized budget.
I was able to tell Utrip all of this in about three minutes. It was quite easy and actually a little bit enjoyable to sit and weigh how much I liked to do one thing over another. Did I care about food more than culture? Sadly, yes.
Utrip begins your itinerary with hotel suggestions. The two spots it suggested were perfectly lovely, but I was already booked into an Airbnb. Still, I was pleased that it gave me one option under $100, a tough find in the City of Light around the holidays.
Each day had about seven activities that truly were tailored to what I wanted to do. Most of these were dedicated to eating and spending time outdoors in parks, with the occasional shop thrown in. There were even things that I, the super-planner, had never heard of like visiting the beautiful Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, a park where actual Parisians hang out.
A daily itinerary in Paris. (Photo: Utrip)
Here’s the thing about being a super-planner. It can be exhausting. You end up trying to do all of the things and then experience an intense guilt when you don’t accomplish everything on your list. What was nice about Utrip is that the suggestions came from a computer. I felt less invested in them, but was just as likely to give them a shot. This alleviated my guilt and also gave me great suggestions for my itinerary.
I was so impressed that I took some time out with the founder, Gilad Berenstein, 28, to find out more about how the platform could help predict the things I would want to do.
Yahoo Travel: What makes Utrip different?
Gilad Berenstein: First and foremost, Utrip is about the individual traveler – his or her specific preferences. Utrip is not about top 10 lists. It’s not about cookie-cutter itineraries. It’s not just about booking travel.
Utrip is about having an authentic and personal experience. We’re different in that we focus on complete itineraries—including activities, events, dinning, and lodging.
Lots of other sites give recommendations. Utrip will not only help a traveler personalize those recommendations; it will also help you take care of the pesky details, such as directions, hours of operations, geography, and seasonality.
Yahoo Travel: How do you think that Utrip makes my life easier? I like to plan.
Berenstein: Utrip brings all the options and recommendations into one easy-to-use platform. You tell us what you like, and what you don’t like, and we will create a step-by-step itinerary in seconds.
Yahoo Travel: How did you come up with the idea?
Berenstein: After finishing graduate school at the University of Washington, I took a trip to Europe. I planned the trip using books, websites, and lots of pen and paper. The trip itself was great but we were continuously bedeviled by misinformation, holes in our itinerary, and the many little obstacles that travelers face every day.
When I got back, I started asking travelers how they plan trips that are unique and special. I found that the vast majority of travelers did exactly what I did. Even worse, most travelers described trip planning in negative terms. They found it time-consuming, difficult, frustrating, even stressful. We wanted to enable travelers to plan unique itineraries in a coherent and enjoyable fashion.
Yahoo Travel: What problem do you think you solve?
Berenstein: Travelers have to go through dozens of sources to find content and inventory. Even after all that effort, their trips do not always turn out as they’d hoped. Utrip helps travelers plan complete personalized itineraries, enabling them to minimize their time in traffic and maximize their enjoyment. Utrip helps travelers avoid tourist traps while ensuring that they see the most authentic version of their dream destinations.
WATCH: Hacks For How to Crowd Fund Your Next Trip